Student volunteers needed for PLAY Program

Logan Raschke, Managing Editor

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Volunteering spots are open for the Spring 2020 Positive Learning for Active Youth, which provides free and educational programs for local children.

Student volunteers, many of whom are recruited from Eastern’s education department, can apply to participate in weekly two-hour time frames to assist with any of five different sites.

The sites include Ashmore Community Center (K-fourth grade), Carl Sandburg Elementary School, Salvation Army Program in Mattoon, Jefferson Elementary School (fourth-sixth grade) and a Fit-2-Serve Farm to Table (first grade).

Sophie Cieslicki, a graduate assistant for the Office of Civic Engagement and Volunteerism, said many education students get practical experience from volunteering for the PLAY program before they start their careers.

Beyond the experience gained by working with children, volunteering also gives the students an easy way to directly help their communities, she said.

Working with children as part of the PLAY programs has been a personally rewarding experience for Cieslicki.

“I’m not around kids a lot, so going there and being reminded of kids’ level of imagination and creativity, especially with stuff going around in the world today, and being reminded of that innocence on a basic level, is just kind of eye-opening and inspiring,” Cieslicki said.

Students can apply for free by searching for the PLAY program on Eastern’s website.

Accepted students will take a free training program before they go on-site. Applications must be submitted by Jan. 28.

Crystal Brown, assistant director of the office, said she urges students who apply to be dedicated to committing their weekly times for a full 10 weeks during the semester.

She said consistent mentorship is important for the children the volunteers work with.

Beth Gillespie, director of the office, said each program has lasting positive effects for the children.

Brown said the Ashmore and Jefferson sites have traditional afterschool programs, meaning children have structured schoolwork times, snack times and play times before their parents pick them up.

Cieslicki said during schoolwork time, children get one-on-one attention from the student volunteers.

Gillespie said the Carl Sandburg site’s program is functioned to help students with their math skills.

Brown said the Fit-2-Serve program is connected to the children’s curriculum as it takes place during the day. The first-graders are bussed during their class days to the program where they learn about the importance of farm-to-table foods.

Gillespie said exposure to farming and agriculture is important to cultivating a better understanding of where everyone’s food comes from. Planting those seeds of interest in today’s youth is a good way to get that education started.

“It just gives you a different appreciation for how your dinner starts before it ends up on your plate and in your belly,” Gillespie said.

Brown said the Salvation Army program in Mattoon is by far the one with the most children involved (around 50 or 60 children per day), and it serves as another traditional afterschool program that additionally provides dinner to the children. The Salvation Army program is the only one in PLAY that costs money; it is $10 per week.

Logan Raschke can be reached at 581-2812 or at [email protected].